Are You a Leader? Four Ways Small Business Owners Serve

leadership signWho do you think of when I say, “Leader in the world of business?”  

A Warren Buffet or Bill Gates type? Maybe a Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerburg?

Perhaps the phrase doesn’t bring to mind a particular person, but rather a “type.”

A CEO in a well tailored suit. The company President who is firmly rooted behind his desk.

If you own a small business, you are not only in business for yourself, you are probably in business by yourself. Even if you employee a small staff, my guess is that you don’t think of yourself as a “Business Leader.”

As Sherra and I work with our clients, we are reminded time and again that small business owners are the real leaders in the world of business.

If you are struggling to see yourself as a Leader, here are a few reminders of the things we see you doing. Day in and day out:

1. Serving as Leaders in Your Industry.

You are involved in professional organizations, networking groups, and continuing education. You represent your market with professionalism and a constant thirst for knowledge. Most importantly, you share freely with others, knowing that helping others be successful is a leader’s greatest gift.

2. Serving as Leaders in Your Community.

Small business owners often have flexibility in the work week. You choose to invest time in service. Whether at your child’s school, a local non-profit organization, or in small town politics, you model ways to give back to your own neighborhoods and cities.

3. Serving as Role Models in Your Family.

Small business owners have vision. You share that vision with your family and find ways to work together toward a shared goal. Many of you put your family right to work! Others remind your children and your spouses that time invested in business hours has a tangible pay off — a vacation, family time, bills paid, dreams made real.

4. Serving as Leaders for Your Clients.

This one is my favorite. For me, a real leader is someone who builds up other people. A real leader shares confidence, skills or products that make life better. You encourage others with a smile, a compliment, and a helping hand. Simply put, you make a difference.

As we wrap up February and look forward to the renewing energy of Spring, allow us to take one more opportunity to share our love and respect for those of you who work diligently to build something of your own. And to serve others at the same time.

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4 Steps to Using Your Calendar for Success

blank calendar

Using your calendar as a strategic tool is key to running a profitable business.

In my blog post 6 Steps to Creating a Strategy for 2013, I talk about planning and tracking financial goals on your calendar. Your calendar is a tool to measure how income producing business activities directly impact your goals. Double checking yourself on a monthly, weekly and daily basis will keep you on track.

Here are four concrete ideas on how to use your calendar for short and long term success:

1. Decide how many hours you will work per week.

Be realistic. If you are a work at home Mom or Dad with small children, the time you spend on your business may be less than it will be when they are in school. If you own a brick and mortar business, your hours will be longer and will match the needs of your consumer.

2. Determine if your weekly work hours mesh with your financial goals.

How many clients will you need per week? (ie., how many paying jobs, products sold, etc.) Now is the time to either adjust your financial goal, or your time investment.

3. Block your calendar.

  • First, mark the times during your week that are non-negotiable — weekly appointments and meetings, carpool, family time, exercise.
  • Next, determine your business hours. For some business owners, these hours are the same every week. Others require more flexibility so each week looks different.
  • Build in time for unexpected changes. Minor emergencies happen! If you are able to build in an extra hour or two each week, one of two things will happen — less stress when you need to be flexible, or more productivity if you are able to use those hours for business.

4. Double check yourself on a weekly basis.

Here is where your calendar is more than a scheduling tool. When you mark your financial goals in advance, you can then measure your progress towards monthly and annual goals each week. In order to meet your goals, you will sometimes need to adjust either the hours you work or the activity you do during the week.

Like goal setting, using your calendar effectively is simple in theory — a bit harder in practice. If you’d like a little help, we are glad to give it!

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Asip Ink: Designing a Growing Home Business

Katy Asip is a talented entrepreneur whose business has grown steadily over the past 6 years. She is the perfect example of a successful, small business woman who has learned to work and grow her business alongside of her family. Katy has an artistic eye and a flair for both the cute and classic. I’ve been a loyal customer for years! Today, Katy shares with us her tips for running a home based business.

Tell us about your business and the services you offer.

My business is Asip Ink. I design and print personalized stationery, custom invitations and a line of inspirational greeting cards called “Love Notes”

How did you come up with the idea?

I didn’t start out with a business in mind. I was doing volunteer work for a start-up charity in Atlanta. We needed thank you notes and letterhead for our organization so I learned how to do make them. Next, I began making notecards and notepads for friends as gifts. Before I knew it, friends were asking me to make notecards for them to give as gifts. Little by little I grew the concept into a business.

What do you like best about being a small business owner?

I love making my own hours and schedule. I have a family, so it is so nice to have the flexibility to do carpool or doctors’ appointments when my kids need me to. I can tailor my schedule to match my family schedule. I also love working at home. I can have dinner cooking or laundry in while I am working.

What are the frustrations?

When I get super busy I can get overwhelmed. I often think “it’s only me,” but I’m guessing most women have a lot on their plates and often feel the same way.

I have learned to use my less busy times of the year – winter and summer – to stock up on cash and carry inventory, organize my workspace and work on fine-tuning marketing tools. These are the things that I cannot focus on when I am slammed with orders.

Also, I invested in a couple of tools which make my business run so much smoother. I purchased an excellent printer which means less wasted paper, ink and time! An excellent paper cutter saves so much time. So, what may seem like an extravagant expense can save time and money in the long run.

Lastly, I have dedicated time in my office during the day, but I never work at night.

How have you grown your business?

I do several craft show and markets a year and I always make new contacts at these. I have a very large email distribution list and though I don’t send too many emails, it is a good way to stay on customers’ radar. I have a website, asipink.com, which my customers share with friends. My business has grown through word of mouth and the internet.

What advice do you have for others who have a great idea and dream of turning it into a successful business?

I would say the easiest part of having my own business is that every day I am doing something I truly love. If you have a talent or passion it is fun to make money doing what you love. Shape your business so that you are doing the things you love…and hire someone to do the things you don’t!

You can find Katy’s work at asipink.com or contact her at kasip@mac.com

Back to School Basics

Some of the most basic skills we need as small business owners are the very skills we learned as young children.

When I wrote about getting back to work two weeks ago because we start back to school so early here in Georgia, I knew there would be a part two and maybe even a part three.

Consider this part two.

Depending on where you live, this upcoming Labor Day weekend may be the time you squeeze in your last bit of summer fun before school starts. For us, we are in week three of school and we’re in a pretty good rhythm with our new schedule.

#3 Create a Schedule deserves a little more time and attention.

Here’s what I said:

3. Create a Schedule

Plan your week. Know what your office hours are. Set appointments with potential clients. Having a framework in place for your week can really boost your productivity.

I also noted that I did not get specific about what your daily schedule should look like.

I’m still not going to tell you what your schedule should look like. I’d rather offer some suggestions and give you an example or too.

Unlike our days in kindergarten where our schedules all looked the same and we didn’t have many choices about them, one of the best benefits of being a small business owner is that we can create our own schedule.

Of course, as you create your schedule, other people’s schedules have to be taken into consideration. Stating the obvious, I know. But sometimes we need to be reminded about the obvious. Or at least I do.

As a self-employed small business owner for over 20 years, I know that I have to schedule certain activities or they will never get done. For me, that means I now color code my google calendar on my laptop. In years past, I used highlighters and colored paper in my planner. Others used stickers and different colored ink pens.

The point is, that while my tools have changed and I do more things electronically because I like technology, the basics of creating my schedule and managing my time have not changed.

I am visual and I like to see how many business activities I have scheduled, how many family activities and even {gasp} how many “all about me” activities are on my schedule. Business is blue, family is green and self/me is purple.

Pick your own colors. Use ink, colored pencils, highlighters or the computer.

Just create a schedule with blocks of time scheduled for WORK.

It’s an important to take your job seriously. Give yourself whatever title you like best. Owner, founder, principal, president. The most important title that you should honor is BOSS. You are the boss and you have to hold yourself accountable.

I’ve often asked people this question:

“If you were hiring right now, would you hire yourself?”

Are you hired? Or fired?

The great thing is that as the boss you can re-hire yourself. Bring your best to your business and your business will grow.

Would love to hear your best work schedule tips – leave a comment below and we can all learn from each other!

Next up in this series, we’ll talk about exactly what you do during your scheduled time to work and what is the most common thing we avoid.

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Memories of Loved Ones: Katy Samuels Hits the Road

Several years ago, Katy Samuels and her extended family took a unique business idea and ran with it — or drove with it as the case may be! Though the family works many and sometimes odd hours, together they make it work. I believe their real secret is the desire to serve others in both the best, and hardest of times. Find out more as I interview Katy to learn what MoLo is all about.

Tell us about your business, Memories of Loved Ones. Who do you serve and what do you offer?

Our products and services help people “celebrate life”. We showcase events such as a birthday, anniversary, graduation or reunion. Or perhaps a family is experiencing the pain of losing a loved one. We specialize in creating custom products – our core product offering includes custom designed and framed collages, slideshows that can be burned as DVDs or Blu-ray discs, and digital books.

Recently, we expanded our offering to include specialized products for weddings. We offer a complete package that includes everything from websites, logos, invitations, programs, table cards, collages of the bride and groom growing up, custom signature books, books telling the story of the bride and groom’s journey to their big day, signs at the event and more! We can even help after the wedding by showcasing wedding and honeymoon photos.

Part of your mission is to help families who are grieving. Tell us more about that.

Our funeral service is unique — we haven’t found a company in the US that offers anything quite like what we have to help a grieving family.

We start by meeting the family at our office or at their home in our MoLo Mobile. In either location we meet with the family and convert all of their memories to digital format. This can include loose photographs, photos in albums, newspaper articles, framed art, framed photos, 3D objects – such as collectibles, jewelry, clothing, medals, trophies – we’ve even included a car! Whatever the family considers a “memory of their loved one” we convert it all to digital.

We love to hear each person’s story. Our goal is that each collage, each slideshow we create, reflect the personality of a families’ loved one. We deliver everything to the funeral home, set it up (all collages are displayed in frames), and then pick it up after the funeral. We will even set everything up at a 2nd location if the family would like us to.

How did you come up with the idea to start MoLo?

In July 2004 my brother Scott & I lost a dear friend, Keith Noble. Keith’s wife made posters with photos for the funeral, but several years later they were misplaced. I decided to contact Keith’s family and collect as many pictures as I could and created “posters” of Keith for a memorial golf outing we hold each year. Our family and friends loved what we had done.

We researched to see if there was any company in the US that offered a service to help families put together and display photos at a funeral. We couldn’t find any! So, we sat down and brainstormed. In the beginning we focused on taking the burden off the family by preserving their photos, creating a beautiful personalized tribute to their loved one, and providing a high quality end product that would last a lifetime. We founded our company based on this simple concept — and boy have we come a LONG way since then!

What do you love best about what you do?

Every day I have the opportunity to put a smile on someone else’s face! A lot of people think our job is depressing. It’s actually the complete opposite. Yes, a family may cry while we are meeting with them. But they also smile and laugh as they share stories about their loved one. I love knowing that we are providing a valuable service that is truly helping someone in need. We go from being perfect strangers on the first day we meet, to feeling like we are part of the family just a few days later. It’s not uncommon for us to receive huge hugs (with tears) as the families thank us over and over again for what we did. It’s truly an amazing feeling and we are blessed to be a part of it.

What does a typical day on the job look like?

“Typical” and “MoLo” don’t go together very well! We love to meet for breakfast because it’s our one chance to be together and to share a meal. It’s not uncommon for us to completely miss a meal and go hours before we realize it! Our days are flexible, but also unpredictable. We make it a priority to put family first and work everything else around that.

Funerals always take priority in our job queue and we work our celebration jobs around them. We never know for sure when we will be in the office, out in the RV, or driving a child to and from school! We tend to work crazy hours and have even pulled all-nighters, but that is why our mobile office is very comfortable including several couches that are often used in shifts for naps!

What advice would you give to women who are thinking about starting a small business?

Be very passionate about your business concept because you will put more blood, sweat and tears into this endeavor than you can ever imagine. Do your homework up front. Research your idea thoroughly to make sure you understand what your competition is doing. Learn how to network in your local community and figure out how to market your idea. Know that you will make lots of mistakes but you learn more from your failures than your successes. Most importantly, follow your dream and believe in yourself. I truly believe that if you are passionate about what you do that anything is possible.

You can find Katy and the team at Memories of Loved Ones (theMoLo.com)

Back to School & Back to Work

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For many women small business owners, summer time is when business slows down. I’ve found this to be especially true for work-at-home moms (WAHM) since it means kids are home and they require more of your time and attention. Even if you don’t have kids, the summer pace for most people seems to be slower than at other times of the year.

Maybe it’s the heat?

Or maybe summer is the season that we are conditioned to give ourselves an extended break because of our memories of our earliest days in school. Of course, if you are old enough, you know that summer was not intended as a school vacation but it was a time for children to come home and help in the fields and harvest the crops. I’m not old enough to know that firsthand…I just remember it from some random history lesson. 😉

Whatever the reason, if you slowed your business down this summer – now is the time to…

Get Back to Work!

As the mom of four, I’ve had my abundant share of the back-to-school frenzy. But with only my 8th grader to get ready, it was a bit calmer. She started back to school last Monday here in Georgia. My three college kids are all fully capable and well-versed in getting themselves ready for their new school year.

Whether you are helping your kindergartner get ready or you’re sending someone to college, the processes and preparation for going back to school serve as some important reminders for small business owners.

1. Start with a Clean Work Space

Clean out your book bag. Throw away old papers. A clean desk with space to work can be a key to a fresh start. As a known paper piler myself, I know I always feel better when I at least straighten and move my piles.

2. Organize Your Supplies

Spending a little time organizing your supplies goes a long way towards saving time not having to hunt for things you know you have “somewhere”.

3. Create a Schedule

Plan your week. Know what your office hours are. Set appointments with potential clients. Having a framework in place for your week can really boost your productivity.

4. Take Breaks

There is still a place for naps and recess even for grown-ups. The power of a short nap should not be minimized. If you can’t imagine napping, at least give yourself a recess break. Step away from the computer, the phone or the project and take a short break.

Creating systems for your workflow will not only help you save time and energy, the greater results are presenting yourself as a professional business owner who can help your clients with their next project.

Do What Works For You

Please note that I did not get specific about what your daily schedule should look like or what color your file folders should be. We all have different levels of organization that we are comfortable with. We all have different personalities and our brains work differently so I’ve never believed that there is only one “right way”. Experiment and find systems and a schedule that works for you.

One of the best parts about being a small business owner is that you have the power to change what doesn’t work for you. Being flexible and adaptable to changing things when you need to is one of the many benefits of being your own boss.

What’s your best tip for getting back to work as the kids get back to school?

Picture Amy at Work

Amy Brooks Hoffmann is a small business owner who balances work alongside of family. I’ve known Amy for years and have always been impressed with her ability to plan strategically, envision a business that is relevant to the time, and network within her community.

Most recently, Amy added photo organizing to her existing business and rebranded with a new name — Fleur de Lis Photo Solutions.

Enjoy my conversation with Amy as she shares a few tips and explains how her business has evolved.

Tell us about your business. What made you decide to become a photo organizer?

A lot has changed with the way we take photographs! Digital photography was introduced in the early 2000s, allowing us to be free of film and photo processing. The good news? You can take so many photographs with a digital camera! The bad news? You can take so many photographs with a digital camera!

More and more often I was asked to create commissioned albums for my clients. The time seemed right with our family’s schedule – so I added the service of photo organizing and digital album creation to my existing business.

You have been a Creative Memories consultant for many years. How has adding photo organizing to your existing business been a benefit?

Expanding my business from Amy Brooks Hoffmann, Creative Memories Consultant to Amy Brooks Hoffmann, Fleur de Lis Photo Solutions broadens my client opportunity.

People and organizations who would never have anything to do with the preconceived idea of a “crafty” business are now interested in working with me as a business consultant for all of their photo needs. Flexibility is the key.

I am working to make sure that current clients, members of my church, school and social communities know that I have expanded my business and offer more services that might benefit them. My current business goal is to expand the business to see what opportunities are available with small and large corporations. I’d love to organize the photographic archives of businesses throughout my home town.

What do you like most about what you do?

I love talking with people, learning their stories, and seeing those experiences in their photos. I have come to the conclusion that most families are really the same – we all have hopes and dreams for our children, challenges with our professions and celebrations throughout the year. I’m convinced that we all have similar experiences and concerns. Most people love their photos. Most people want to enjoy them. Most people have no idea how to transform their “mess” of photos to “masterpieces.”

That’s where I come in.

What advice do you have for new Photo Organizers? Or for someone who is adding photo organizing to an existing business?

If you have jumped into this profession, you probably have worked with your own photos and family memorabilia.  Realize that the work you have done with your own photos is a perfect “apprenticeship,” preparing you to work with clients. When working with a new client, Be Confident in your ability to bring an outside, objective view to the new project. Your clients will express nothing but gratitude and relief as you assume the responsibility for their project.

You have kids at home (2 smart and active boys!) How do you make it all work?

“Making it all work” is a lofty goal by anyone’s standards. Is it really possible to integrate a smooth home and professional life every day? We try at the Hoffmann household. Often succeeding. Sometimes failing. The greatest challenge for me as a Mom and home-based business owner is time management. I often over commit to professional and philanthropic projects. That leads to panic, frustration and can obliterate a well planned schedule.

Keeping my family’s schedule in mind, I always discuss a deadline (or series of deadlines) with my clients. Accountability to the client keeps the project on pace and moving forward while putting my family first.

A second word of advice: find a “desk” for yourself. This was a really big transition for me after I decided to become a stay-at-home mom 12 years ago. It is frustrating to  have “stacks” of paper and projects throughout the house. You need a landing spot/clearing house for the paper and information that comes into your home. I keep my to do lists here, along with project files. It is a daily challenge to keep my space clutter free…but that is a discussion for another blog post, I’m sure!

Amy Brooks Hoffmann can be reached at Fleur de Lis Photo Solutions
She is an Appo™ member.